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These Nature Photos Will Tickle Your Funny Bone

When I was a kid, my dad occasionally would point to photos of animals such as the duckbill platypus, or to an actual 'possum in our rural Oklahoma neighborhood as evidence that God has a wicked sense of humor. A book released this week by Workman Publishing approaches nature with that same appreciation of its whimsy. 

WTF, Evolution?!
 

In Mara Grunbaum's WTF, Evolution?! A Theory of Unintelligible Design, just released by Workman Publishing, is a pictorial blooper reel of 100 funny creatures that will have you wondering if nature occasionally needs a designated driver, goes a little crazy or just runs out of steam. What to make of the Regal Horned Lizard, for example, that defends itself by shooting 3-foot streams of blood from its eyes?  Or the Peacock Spider, whose flamboyant mating dance and vivid markings would be right at home in a Mardi Gras parade?

Thanks to meticulous sourcing and fact-checking, we can believe Grunbaum when she tells us that the Banded Piglet Squid, which looks like a water balloon that's delighted with its new 'do, appears jolly thanks to the band of chromatophores (colored cells) that encircle it. Or that some species of Cordyceps fungus can control their hosts' behavior, compelling them to climb onto a high leaf before they die, to make sure the fungus' spores spread as widely as possible. Her conversations with and about a hilariously personified "Evolution" provide a running commentary that sounds like Mystery Science Theater meets Scientific American — over a stack of really excellent nature photographs and maybe a couple of beers.  

On her popular WTF Evolution Tumblr blog, Grunbaum mentions that her grandmother had been a bit concerned about the veiled profanity of the title but ended up being "delighted" by the contents. Some of the text might be considered a bit raunchy, so this book might not be for everyone. But for the not-easily offended, these charming, funny and fascinating pictures of nature will leave you shaking your head and maybe agreeing with my dad. A wicked sense of humor, indeed.

Usumbara Giant Three-Horned Chameleon (Chamaeleo deremensis)


"Sure, Evolution, being able to see in two different directions at once is kind of nice — as long as one of those directions isn't into a mirror."

From WTF, Evolution?! Workman Publishing; photo ©Jack Milchanowski/Getty Images

 

Giant Three-Horned Chameleon

Peacock Spider

"Just go with it, okay? ...you kind of waggle the flap back and forth, like this — but really, really fast — and bend the legs up and down like you're directing traffic. ...The lady spiders are super into this."

From WTF, Evolution?! Workman Publishing; photo ©Jurgen Otto/Rex USA
Peacock spider

Babirusa (Babyrousa babyrussa)

"Why so gloomy, babirusa? Is it because Evoution gave you some weird extra tusks that are ugly, useless, too brittle to fight with, and may eventually grow so long that they curve around and fatally puncture your skull? Could that be it?"

From WTF, Evolution?! Workman Publishing; photo ©Danita Delimont/Alamy

Babirusa

Water Bear or Tardigrade (Paramacrobiotus craterlakii)

"Tardigrades can enter into a state of suspended animation called cryptobiosis, which is effectively a reversible death. Zombies, take note."

From WTF, Evolution?! Workman Publishing; photo ©Eye of Science/Science Source

Tardigrade

Galápagos Batfish (Ogcocephalus darwini)

"Clearly, the red-lipped batfish is a work of satire, not meant to be taken as a literal 'animal,' ..."

From WTF, Evolution?! Workman Publishing; photo © Mark Conlin/Getty Images

Red-lipped Batfish

Lowland Tapir (Tapir terrestris)

"Good lord, Evolution, what is that ...?

From WTF, Evolution?! Workman Publishing; photo Thomas Vinke/age fotostock

Tapir

Banded Piglet Squid

"The piglet squid would seem to suggest that Evolution's medications are working. Possibly a little too well."

From WTF, Evolution?! Workman Publishing; photo © Mark Conlin/Getty Images

Piglet squid

Cordyceps fungus on a moth

"...the fungus kind of exploded its brain. But doesn't it look neat?"

From WTF, Evolution?! Workman Publishing; photo ©Science Photo Library/Alamy

Cordyceps

Mara Grunbaum 

Mara Grunbaum is a science writer and editor who's covered everything from the biology of whiskers to mining palladium on the moon. Her work has appeared in Popular Science, Discover magazine, OnEarth, ScientificAmerican.com and other publications and websites. She's a graduate of New York University's master's program in Science, Health and Environmental Reporting.